PRICE

[*] laby2;p1205.By Alan Rich [B]Daily News Music Critic[B] Considering the number of years the musical world has basked in the glow of
Leontyne Price’s artistry — 33, since her lustrous Aida at the San Francisco
Opera — one might have regarded the soprano’s Royce Hall recital on Saturday
night as an exercise in nostalgia. No such thing; the years rolled back on
that magical evening, and there stood that achingly beautiful artist, still,
mioraculously, at the top of her vocal form.
Some artists travel with easy-listening programs for the boonies, made up of
the chestnuts of the repertory. Not Price; she paid her compliment to the
capacity audience with a substantial and rewarding program: two big classic
arias, groups of German and French songs, four by the contemporary American
Lee Hoiby, the “Pace, pace” from Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino” and a
final spiritual that, in turn, activated a generous outlay of encores.
One of the classic arias was Electra’s Mad Scene from Mozart’s “Idomeneo”
which, by coincidence, had been performed in its operatic context at the
Music Center the night before. It stretches no point to suggest that the
piano support of the veteran David Garvey at the recital was noticeably more
responsive to the drama of the music than the orchestral forces at the opera.
The voice of Price, now as then, is a wondrous instrument. It is especially
so in the music of Verdi’s tragic heroines; there is a vibrance there that
curls itself enchantingly around those big lyric lines, lands with awesome
splendor on those final notes (the B-flat in the “Forza” aria as a shining
example) and shades them down until you feel them throbbing under your own
skin.
There was a time when she tended to overuse the chest tone as a dramatic
device. This time, in the “Forza” aria and also in arias from “Madama {cq}
Butterfly” and “Adriana Lecouvreur” among the encores, one heard instead
singing of remarkable purity, no less communicative but ravishing in its very
freedom.
That’s the word, “ravishing.” The German song group included two
charming deceits by the underrated late romantic Joseph Marx along with three
unfamiliar Richard Strauss works. The Hoiby group also had some exceptional
material. A composer of conservative leanings (most recently known for his
tiny operatic setting of a Julia Child chocolate cake recipe), Hoiby’s songs
display a firmer art than one might otherwise believe. Outstanding among the
four chosen by Price were two Emily Dickinson settings, “Wild Nights” and
“There came a Wind.” On stage — in something of dusky green in the first half, blue in the second
— Price seduced the eye no less than the ear; just that generous smile of
hers is enough to light lights anywhere. She lights even more lights with her
art, of course; she could put on an evening of nothing but C-major scales and
still send the crowd home happy. She was, and she remains, one of our few
remaining genuine class acts.